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CIMM Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION ENTITLED
AFTER THE WARM WELCOME: ENSURING THAT SYRIAN REFUGEES SUCCEED

Introduction

On November 24, 2015, the Government of Canada announced its commitment to increase response efforts to the humanitarian crisis in Syria by welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. The resettlement of more than 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015, and February 29, 2016, was a massive coordinated national effort that included collaboration with provinces and territories, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, private sponsors, service provider organizations, and Canadians. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada relies on these partners to support resettled refugees’ integration into Canadian society. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration seized the opportunity to learn from this historic refugee resettlement initiative and has provided 14 recommendations that focus on the integration challenges that many Syrian refugees are facing. 

The Government would like to thank the Committee for its efforts in preparing the report and for the opportunity to participate in the hearings. The Government appreciates the time and expertise that the many witnesses shared with the Committee over the course of this study. The Committee’s recommendations bring more awareness and focus to the integration experiences of Syrian refugees, and are well aligned with ongoing work to support refugees and vulnerable newcomers settling in Canada.

The Department agrees with the intent of the Committee’s 14 recommendations and is taking action in several areas. For example, the Department has undertaken measures to decrease wait times for accessing language training, and will continue to monitor the demand for language training. Increased resources have been made available for programming for youth and women, and the Department is exploring ways to grow and strengthen partners’ involvement in the integration of newcomers, such as employers. In other cases, the Department agrees with the recommendations and recognizes that more work is required to ensure that services and supports are provided to the fullest extent possible. For example, the Department will work with its partners to examine issues raised by the Committee on the supplemental coverage for urgent dental care provided under the Interim Federal Health Program. The need for strong communication with sponsorship groups and to respond to Canadians’ ongoing interest in supporting refugees is an area of ongoing focus within the Department.   

The Committee Report’s recommendations are addressed under the six themes below:

(1)   Ensuring that Syrian refugees have the settlement and integration supports they need;

(2)   Collaborating with provinces, territories and other partners to meet the needs of Syrian refugees;

(3)   Promoting best practices and tools to encourage and support employers to hire refugees;

(4)   Ensuring that refugees have access to services and health coverage to support their needs;

(5)   Supporting research and data collection in order to report on the integration of Syrian refugees and on the effectiveness of the Settlement Program; and

(6)   Responding to Canadians’ ongoing interest in helping Syrian refugees.

(1) Ensuring that Syrian refugees have the settlement and integration supports they need

1

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct an urgent needs-based assessment of government-assisted refugees whose sponsorship period is ending, and ensure they have continued access to language training so that refugees have a reasonable prospect of acquiring language skills that will lead them to employment and financial independence.

3

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada monitor the effect of recent funding increases on language classes and review ways to increase efficiency and decrease wait times.

 9

That a portion of the additional settlement funding for Syrian refugees provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada be set aside for youth programs, particularly to address the unique needs of teenagers, as well as programs to support mothers.

The Committee’s Report underscores the importance of settlement programming that supports the full participation of newcomers, including refugees, in the economic, social, cultural, and civic life of Canada. In particular, the Committee highlights the need to ensure access to language training and the availability of supports for those who may face additional barriers to settlement, such as youth and women. The Department strongly agrees with the Committee and has prioritized these needs in current and planned settlement programming. The Department funds settlement programming via a Call for Proposals, which is the primary mechanism for the allocation of grants and contributions funds and is open to all eligible organizations or individuals as defined in the Terms and Conditions of the Settlement and Resettlement Assistance Programs. The Department operates a national Call for Proposals every three years, with the most recent having occurred in 2015.

Resettled refugees can arrive in Canada through one of three programs, all of which offer a path to permanent residence and citizenship: the Government-Assisted Refugee Program; the Privately-Sponsored Refugee Program; and the Blended-Visa Office Referred Program. The three programs differ by how refugees are referred to Canada, as well as by who provides the financial and other supports they receive to facilitate their resettlement upon arrival in Canada.

Government-assisted refugees receive income support from the Government of Canada through the Resettlement Assistance Program for up to one year. The Resettlement Assistance Program also funds the provision of immediate and essential services to assist in meeting the resettlement needs of government-assisted refugees and other eligible clients. Immediate and essential services, such as reception services, temporary accommodation, needs assessments, and life skills orientation, are provided usually in the first six weeks of arrival. Privately sponsored refugees receive similar support from their sponsors, who provide emotional and social support and monthly income support; the duration of the sponsorship is generally one year. For blended visa office-referred refugees, the provision of income and resettlement supports is a shared responsibility between the Government and private sponsors and is typically available for up to one year. It is important to emphasize that although resettled refugees can receive up to 12 months of income support, they can access Settlement Program services to support their integration needs beyond the resettlement period, up until the point of citizenship.

Turning to the Committee’s first recommendation, it is important to note that while refugees are not selected based on their capacity to establish economically, this is regarded as a key part of integration. As noted in the 2016 Evaluation of Resettlement Programs, economic integration outcomes have differed between privately sponsored refugees and government-assisted refugees, who tended to have comparatively lower economic performance in the first years following admission. Specifically, government-assisted refugees had lower incidence of employment, lower employment earnings, and higher reliance on social assistance than privately sponsored refugees; however the difference between the incidence of social assistance for government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugees converged to near parity after 10 years after arrival. Differences in outcomes can be a reflection of both the role of sponsors, as well as the higher needs and vulnerabilities of government-assisted refugees referred to Canada by the United Nations Refugee Agency based on their protection needs.

Needs-based assessment is the first step in the settlement and integration pathway and has been used to identify the needs of Syrian refugees. Assessments cover a broad range of settlement and integration areas to identify the specific needs of each individual newcomer, including language training, employment-related services, settlement information and orientation to Canada, health services, education systems, and housing. The Department also recognized the importance of conducting a more comprehensive assessment of the settlement needs of Syrian refugees and has conducted a Rapid Impact Evaluation of the 25,000 Syrian refugees (including 14,994 government-assisted refugees) who arrived in Canada between November 4, 2015, and March 1, 2016. Preliminary findings of the evaluation highlight that Syrian refugees continue to face settlement challenges, especially in terms of learning an official language and finding a job; however, findings also showed a strong uptake of available settlement services that will support integration, noting that 92% of government-assisted refugees from this cohort had their language assessed, and of those surveyed, 95% self-reported being enrolled in language training (not specifically Settlement Program-funded language training).  For those government-assisted refugees not enrolled, the main reasons for not taking advantage of language training was the lack of available low-level language classes and childminding services.

In response to the sudden increase in the number of refugees accessing settlement services, the Government provided over $67 million in supplementary settlement funding for the Syrian refugee effort in 2016–17, a portion of which was used to increase the number of Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada/Cours de langue pour les immigrants au Canada (LINC/CLIC) classes at lower levels where needs were greatest. Since April 2016, the Department has added nearly 7,000 new language training seats across Canada (outside of Quebec) to meet the needs of the increased number of Syrian refugees. Funding was also directed to support services such as child care and transportation assistance.

As highlighted in the Committee’s recommendation, the Department recognizes the importance of monitoring the effect of these recent funding increases on language classes and is reviewing ways to increase efficiency and decrease wait times. The Department implemented an improved data capture system and issued Waitlist Management and Language Referral Guidelines in February 2016. These guidelines for language training or assessment service providers allow the Department to more accurately and consistently plan and budget based on more reliable information on where additional classes are needed. The guidance minimizes the duplication of client counts, and allows the Department to now have access to greater information not previously available. The Department will continue monitoring how funding increases are impacting language classes and the accessibility of language training services to clients.   

Like language skills, a lack of employment-related skills is another integration barrier for many newcomers. The Settlement Program offers employment-related services to help newcomers access the Canadian labour market, including job-seeking skills (e.g. résumé building, interview skills, networking skills), employment counselling, work placement and mentorship opportunities, and professional networking opportunities. The Department will continue to expand employment best practices, foster partnerships to support newcomers at all language and skill levels, and build connections with employers .

The Department also recognizes the need for specialized settlement services and delivers targeted interventions via the Settlement Program to improve the integration outcomes of vulnerable newcomers, such as refugees, women, and youth. Supplementary settlement funding for 2016–17 has been invested to support the unique settlement needs of the Syrian refugees, such as supports to address mental health, as well as shifts in family dynamics, including awareness of rights and responsibilities and gender-based violence. Programming enhancements for women include increased childcare, and additional conversation circles specifically for women and mothers to enable them to establish valuable social connections, learn about available community supports, practice their new language skills, and reduce isolation. Current settlement programming for youth is also being tailored to meet the needs of Syrian youth. For example, in 2016–17 the Department increased the number of workers across the country in the Settlement Workers in Schools Program from 498 to 531. In addition, some school boards across the country have introduced Arabic-speaking settlement workers to the Settlement Workers in Schools Program.

Other federal government departments, such as Employment and Social Development Canada, are also ensuring that their programming is responding to the needs of Syrian refugees, such as via the Youth Employment Strategy. This Strategy, which prioritized Syrian youth in 2016, helps youth aged 15 to 30 get career information and gain the skills, work experience, and abilities they need to find and maintain employment. As a result, the Strategy’s Canada Summer Jobs Initiative created over 500 jobs for Syrian youth in 2016. Several projects are also being funded under the Strategy’s Skills Link stream, specifically aimed at refugee youth facing barriers to employment. In addition, Employment and Social Development Canada is leading a multi-departmental initiative that includes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to look at innovative solutions to make existing federal policies, programs and practices more responsive to the needs of youth, including refugees fleeing conflict zones, such as those from Syria.

Moving forward, future settlement programming for all eligible newcomers, including refugees, will be shaped by the projects implemented from the most recent Call for Proposals process. Included in the Settlement Program funding priorities was a new emphasis on employment-related services that support newcomers’ entry into the Canadian labour market, and specialized settlement services for multi-barriered and previously underserved clients. For example, the Call for Proposals prioritized interventions designed to address the specific employment-related needs of low-skilled newcomers in order to support labour market attachment and job retention. The priorities against which proposals were selected were reconfirmed or validated in spring 2016 in light of Syrian refugee needs. Many of the new projects that will be implemented beginning on April 1, 2017, will include labour market integration components, such as building connections with employers, and targeted interventions to support the needs of youth, women, and families. This programming will help newcomers, including Syrian refugees, to achieve their settlement and integration goals, enabling them to be active participants in Canadian society and economy.

  (2) Collaborating with provinces, territories and other partners to better meet the needs of Syrian refugees

2

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work with its partners to develop an affordable housing strategy for newcomers, and that the Government work with the provinces and settlement agencies to ensure that refugees are aware of their rights with respect to housing in order to protect against abuse.

11

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada collaborate closely with provincial, territorial, municipal, and civil-society partners, including school boards and other stakeholders, to maximize efficiencies and reduce gaps within the existing framework for education, resettlement, and integration.

The Committee’s report raises the important role that partnerships play in ensuring that refugees’ settlement and integration needs are met. Given that all provinces and territories contribute to the successful settlement and integration of newcomers through the social, educational, health, and labour market services they provide, the federal, provincial, and territorial government partnership is required to maximize the benefits of immigration. The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations and remains committed to working closely with provinces and territories as well as with settlement service provider organizations and other stakeholders so that newcomers, including refugees, are able to successfully integrate in Canada.

The Department recognizes that resettling 25,000 refugees from Syria has placed pressures on provinces, territories, and municipalities to respond to their needs in such areas as health, education, and housing. To ensure the settlement of Syrian refugees is managed in a coordinated and effective manner, the Department is engaging and collaborating with provinces and territories via the Forum of Ministers Responsible for Immigration and the Federal Provincial Territorial Settlement Working Group. Working at the federal, provincial, and territorial officials level is the most effective method to ensure a coordinated and responsive approach to emerging settlement issues regarding the Syrian refugee initiative. For example, federal, provincial, and territorial officials held weekly calls at the height of the Syrian refugee resettlement effort to ensure a coordinated and responsive settlement approach; these calls are now held monthly to focus on settlement issues. Bilateral calls also occur with provinces and territories on an ad hoc basis. The Forum is currently reviewing its governance structure to ensure that its framework is aligned to best produce results on its priorities. In addition, issues of settlement and integration have been a focus for discussions at the senior officials-level of the Forum of Labour Market Ministers and its working group. The Forum of Labour Market Ministers is an intergovernmental collaboration forum composed of the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for labour market issues.

Federal, provincial, and territorial collaboration has also been important with regard to income support. Although the process by which refugees transition to provincial or territorial services is not new, the volume and pace of Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada between November 2015 and February 2016 was unprecedented. With regard to the transition from federal income support provided through the Resettlement Assistance Program, the income support provided through this program aims to be in accordance with the prevailing provincial social assistance rates available in the client's province of residence. To support the transition for the expected higher numbers of applications for social assistance and to ensure that refugees receive this assistance in a timely manner, federal and provincial officials have worked closely with Resettlement Assistance Program service providers. 

The Department has also worked with the Canada Revenue Agency to expedite the delivery of the Canada Child Benefit, which resettled refugees are eligible for during and beyond their first year in Canada. As well, information regarding tax benefits has been disseminated to newcomers through information and orientation services provided to newcomers under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Settlement Program.

The Department is in consultation with Canada Revenue Agency to explore the possibility of an automated benefits application partnership so that newcomers arriving to Canada may apply for their Canada Child Benefits upon arrival or soon thereafter, facilitated through an existing application process.

The Department also continues to engage its civil society partners in its approach to settlement and integration through various fora, such as the National Settlement Council. The National Settlement Council comprises representatives of the Department’s resettlement and settlement service provider organizations across the country as well as provincial and territorial representatives and partners such at the United Nations Refugee Agency. Two consultations with settlement stakeholders and partners were held in April and November 2016, to reflect on the lessons learned from the Syrian resettlement effort. Discussions focused on examining the impact on the settlement organizations and identifying the emerging issues and challenges related to the Syrian refugees’ successful integration and the settlement system itself, such as supports for women and youth, and connecting privately sponsored refugees to settlement supports. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship also held national public consultations in 2016 to hear what immigration means to Canadians and how Canada can continue to grow through the immigration system. Results from this public consultation, which also covered integration, show that overall, stakeholders recognize the importance of providing appropriate settlement and integration supports, such as language training, mentoring and health services, and employment strategies in response to measured increases in immigration levels over multiple years.

The Committee’s recommendation to develop an affordable housing strategy for newcomers and to ensure that refugees are aware of the housing and support services available to them are aligned with the Government of Canada’s Budget 2016 commitment to develop a National Housing Strategy as well as with its ongoing work with the settlement sector. The provincial and territorial governments are the federal government’s primary partner in housing, with responsibility for the design and delivery of housing programs in their areas of jurisdiction. The Government is collaborating with provincial and territorial governments on a National Housing Strategy to support affordable housing and facilitate access to a range of housing options for all Canadians. The Department is collaborating with the federal lead, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, to ensure that the housing needs of low-income individuals, including immigrants and refugees, and the long-term housing outcomes of this population are considered in the development of this Strategy.

The Department works closely with service provider organizations via the Settlement Program to provide newcomers with online and in-person information and orientation sessions on life in Canada, including information on how to navigate the Canadian housing system and market. Newcomers have access to the Settlement Program’s information and orientation sessions prior to their arrival and once they arrive in Canada. The Department’s publications and online information sources, such as Welcome to Canada, the “Living in Canada” needs assessment tool, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Housing for Newcomers section of its website also provide newcomers with information on Canada’s housing system and on their rights and responsibilities so that they can make informed housing decisions. 

In addition, through the Resettlement Assistance Program, the Department funds service provider organizations to deliver immediate and essential services to government-assisted refugees, including providing temporary accommodation and assistance finding permanent housing. The Resettlement Assistance Program service provider organizations work directly with refugees to make sure they understand their tenant obligations and lease agreements. Furthermore, refugees are matched with communities where there are already settlement supports in place, with consideration given to areas with an availability of housing and social and settlement services.

(3) Promoting best practices and tools to encourage and support employers to hire refugees

5

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada promote the winners of the “Employer Award for Refugee Employment” as best practices for other employers to consider.

6

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada and settlement agencies be encouraged to include information on hiring refugees on their websites, such as Onboarding Syrian Refugees: A Toolkit for Employers , alongside information on how to hire temporary and permanent residents to fill labour market needs.

The Government of Canada is not only dedicated to providing settlement and integration supports to newcomers, it is also focused on promoting the hiring of newcomers and supporting employers’ goals of hiring and retaining newcomers. The Committee’s report highlights that while Syrian refugees are eager to start working in Canada, many face barriers to entering the labour market, such as inadequate official language abilities, lack of Canadian experience and the non-recognition of foreign credentials, among others.

The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation to promote the winners of the “Employer Award for Refugee Employment” to recognize innovative employer-led initiatives and to widely share these best practices. This award recognizes the significant contribution of employers that have gone above and beyond normal practice to employ, train, and retain refugees within their organizations. It may also provide an incentive to other employers to undertake proven best practices. Launched in 2014–2015, the Department has awarded six employers. In 2016, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship presented that year’s three recipients with the award at the Employer Council of Champions Summit in Ottawa. Now renamed the “Employer Awards in Newcomer Employment,” the Department will aim to use more promotional tactics to further highlight these best practices, such as regional news releases announcing winners, with supporting promotion via social media, and at National Settlement Council meetings and other outreach opportunities for the Department.

The Government views the hiring and retention of newcomers, including refugees, as important to meeting integration objectives as well as broader economic objectives to address current and projected labour shortages in Canada. The Department supports the Committee’s recommendation and currently provides information specific to hiring refugees as well as information on hiring temporary and permanent residents. In addition to information supports for employers, the Department is interested in exploring what more it can do to support and engage the private sector on newcomer integration.

The Department’s #WelcomeRefugees Initiative website provides tips on how to hire newcomers, as well as how to connect with newcomers via service providers for the purposes of employment and/or participating in settlement services (e.g. mentorships). It also provides information on how to welcome refugees into the workplace. The Department’s Employer’s Roadmap to Hiring and Retaining Internationally Trained Workers is available online and highlights different ways to hire and retain internationally trained workers, including helpful tips, practical tools and useful resources. Employment and Social Development Canada’s Job Bank and Career Tool website complements the Department’s employer supports. For example, the Job Bank website links to other online resources for employers, such as the Hire Immigrants website, which provides free resources to recruit, hire and retain immigrants.

Beyond online tools, the Department’s Settlement Program supports employer-focused organizations, such as Immigrant Employment Councils, which support employers in attracting, hiring and retaining newcomers. Immigrant Employment Councils also provide employer-focused resources to support the integration of skilled newcomers in the workplace (e.g. diversity training). For example, Settlement Program funding was used by the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia to develop Onboarding Syrian Refugees: A Toolkit for Employers , which outlines the benefits of hiring newcomers, specifically Syrian refugees. This resource is posted on the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia website, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has linked to the publication on the Department’s website. The Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia also intends to share this resource with other Immigrant Employment Councils. The Department encourages its distribution through targeted networks that connect with employers. 

Employment and Social Development Canada’s work on foreign credential recognition also supports employers’ ability to hire newcomers with international credentials. The Foreign Credential Recognition Program provides funding to provinces and territories, regulatory bodies, national associations and credential assessment agencies to assess and recognize the international credentials and work experience that individuals have acquired in other countries. The Syrian refugee resettlement initiative has impacted the work on credential recognition, since often refugees do not have access to the documentation they need to prove their credentials. This can be a barrier for both refugees and employers in the hiring process. To address this challenge, Employment and Social Development Canada provided funding for a workshop hosted by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials that brought together close to 100 credentials assessment and recognition experts. The workshop helped build knowledge in the assessment community regarding alternative approaches to credential assessment and recognition for refugees and persons in refugee-like situations.

Moving forward, the Department will look to do more to grow the involvement of the private sector to improve the economic integration of newcomers. One approach that could be explored is to build on the Department’s relationships with employers, as was done with the Syrian refugee resettlement efforts, and identify ways to more systematically, holistically and directly connect employers to the integration process. Progress on this front will be shared with the immigrant employment council network.

(4) Ensuring that refugees have access to services and health coverage to support their needs

7

That the federal government examine the need and most appropriate response for providing translation and interpretation services for refugees in Canada while engaging with the health care system.

8

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work with the Canadian Dental Association to identify changes required in Interim Federal Health Care coverage so that it is comparable to coverage under provincial assistance plans for low income residents. Further, that the federal government and Medavie Blue Cross work together to make any changes to how benefits are administered so that the program is of maximum benefit to refugees and dentists are encouraged to participate while maintaining the integrity and accountability of the program.

Health care services are of primary importance for all Canadians; however, many Syrian refugees have not had regular access to health services before resettling in Canada and in some cases their health care needs are serious. The Committee’s recommendations point to the importance of ensuring that all refugees, including Syrian refugees, have the proper supports to access the health care system in Canada and that they have adequate health coverage. 

The Department agrees with the Committee’s recommendations and will be working to ensure that its programming supports refugees’ resettlement needs relating to health services to the fullest extent possible. Since immigration is a shared jurisdiction between the federal and provincial/territorial governments and health care is under provincial/territorial jurisdiction, the Department works collaboratively on issues related to settlement, such as mental health and access to health care services, both multilaterally and bilaterally.

The Interim Federal Health Program provides limited, temporary health care coverage to resettled refugees, usually for up to three months after arrival in Canada, until they become eligible for provincial/territorial health care plans. Basic coverage, such as hospital and physician services, is similar to health care coverage from provincial or territorial health insurance plans. Refugees also receive supplemental coverage, such as urgent dental care, and prescription drug coverage similar to what provinces and territories provide to Canadians who receive social assistance.  Supplemental and prescription drug coverage is provided as long as the beneficiary receives income support from the Resettlement Assistance Program (or its equivalent in Quebec), or until the beneficiary is no longer under private sponsorship. 

As recommended by the Committee, the Department will work with the Canadian Dental Association to analyze how the dental benefits offered under the Interim Federal Health Program align with the dental coverage currently offered by provinces and territories. The Department will also consult with the provinces and territories on their coverage, as well as other government departments on coverage provided to Canadians and other federal populations to inform the work. While the Interim Federal Health Program coverage generally mirrors benefits provided by provincial or territorial health insurance plans, it retains the discretion to make certain adjustments to align with program specific parameters. Accordingly, following consultations with key stakeholders and analysis of that work, the Department will identify possible program changes to dental coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program and implications of these changes, such as program design and funding requirements; develop recommendations for program changes, as needed; and seek appropriate approvals.

The Department accepts the recommendation to work with Medavie Blue Cross, the Interim Federal Health Program’s third-party administrator, to develop and assess options and implement appropriate measures to streamline the process of dental claims, thereby improving efficiency in administration of dental benefits for refugees. As well, the Department will reach out to the Canadian Dental Association and its members to ensure they have a full understanding of the benefits under the program and to encourage dentists to enroll as a service provider in the Interim Federal Health Program. 

Regarding translation and interpretation supports, the Department’s current work in this area is aligned with the Committee’s recommendation. The Interim Federal Health Program provides coverage for interpretation services for mental health services and Post Arrival Health Assessments. Translation and interpretation supports for accessing health services may also be available in communities where refugees have settled through municipal, provincial, or territorial programming. Under the Settlement Program, the Department funds translation and interpretation support services that enable newcomers to access other federally-funded settlement supports. Providing support services to newcomers accessing health services is beyond the scope of the Settlement Program’s terms and conditions. The Department is currently evaluating to what extent these support services facilitate access to settlement services. The evaluation findings, which will be publicly available in 2017, may identify areas of improvement for newcomers to access settlement supports, and may inform enhancements or future policy and programming in this area. It is possible that the findings could also point to gaps in accessing other community-based supports, such as health care.

The Department’s Settlement Program also funds activities that support newcomers’ health and mental health and the provision of community-based health information that promotes mental health awareness and access to health care services. Through building partnerships with stakeholders and organizations in the health sector, the Department is identifying the best methods and tools to assist immigrants as they settle in Canada. 

(5) Supporting research and performance measurement in order to report on the integration of Syrian refugees and on the effectiveness of the Settlement Program.

10

That Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada implement an ongoing study of the integration of the Syrian refugees who have been or will be resettled in Canada from late 2015 through early 2017, and support, by providing access, funding, or other assistance, and longitudinal academic studies of the integration of the Syrian refugees. Further, that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada maintain contact with the Syrian refugees over the long term in order to facilitate the collection of the data required to ensure the successful completion of those studies.

12

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider amending its agreements with settlement services providers to require reporting to the department against metrics for service delivery and client satisfaction, to help ensure settlement funding is being utilized effectively.

The Committee’s recommendations principally covered the programs and initiatives that are supporting Syrian refugee’s settlement and integration to Canada. Equally important are the monitoring, evaluation and research activities in place to determine whether Syrian refugees are successfully integrating into Canadian society. The Department accepts the Committee’s recommendation for an ongoing study of Syrian refugees’ integration to Canada and has implemented evaluations, performance measurement activities and research projects related to the Syrian refugees Initiative that will enable reporting on the outcomes of Syrian refugees in the short, medium and long term. The research and outcomes data will be used to inform future policy and program work.

The Department has completed a Rapid Impact Evaluation of the Syrian Refugee Initiative that provides findings related to the resettlement and early settlement outcomes of Syrian refugees who have been admitted to Canada as part of the initial 25,000 commitment. The results of this evaluation will be publicly available in early 2017. An Evaluation of the Resettlement Program was completed in July 2016, examining all resettled refugees who arrived in Canada between 2010 and 2014. This evaluation is being used as a benchmark to compare Syrian refugees’ experiences in Canada with other resettled populations. In addition, an evaluation of the Settlement Program’s outcomes for all immigrants and refugees is currently underway. The results of this evaluation will be publicly available in 2017.

To further complement these evaluations, the Department has initiated a project with Statistics Canada that uses Census data to bridge the immigrant landing file, which identifies immigration status in the population, with provincial and territorial hospital discharge data. While the Department has completed research on hospitalizations in the immigrant population related to vaccine-preventable disease, data linkages will be expanded to include hospitalizations due to tuberculosis, blood-borne infections, and severe mental health conditions. This data can provide information on some health conditions that may arise over time in the resettled refugee population.

In terms of performance measurement and program monitoring, the Department continues to make data publicly available by posting data to the Government of Canada Open Data Portal, such as regular updates to the socio-demographic profile of Syrian refugees being admitted to Canada (e.g. age, gender, education, official languages, family composition). The Department is also regularly reporting on the resettlement and settlement services received by Syrians, such as needs assessments, language assessments, and enrollment in Settlement Program-funded language training.

Turning to research, the Department is collaborating with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to support policy relevant research on the Syrian refugee population. Twenty-six research proposals from universities, colleges, and not-for-profits across Canada have received funding through this joint initiative. These teams will report on preliminary outputs and findings in March 2017, at the 19th National Metropolis Conference. To examine longer-term integration outcomes, the Department will undertake an economic outcomes analysis using the Longitudinal Immigration Database, which combines immigration and tax data files and will be used to compare Syrian refugees to other immigrants from different immigration categories, cohorts and Canadian-born.

The Department agrees with the Committee that program effectiveness is a priority and that data collection is an important component in program monitoring and evaluation to help to ensure the achievement of program outcomes and the proper stewardship of program funding. The Department has implemented regular financial and activity monitoring for settlement service providing organizations to ensure that Settlement Program funding is being used effectively to support the settlement and integration of newcomers. Once the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Departmental Results Framework and Program Inventory are finalized, the Department will align its approach to performance measurement and results reporting for Syrian refugees with existing Performance Information Profiles and tools.

Tracking and reporting on the number of clients served and number of services provided is another way that the Department ensures program effectiveness. This data is collected from service provider organizations via a new client and service information system called the Immigration Contribution Agreement Reporting Environment. In addition, the Department uses the service provider organizations’ periodic and annual narrative reports to identify program delivery challenges and successes, and also collaborates with the settlement sector to promote good practices in service delivery. Regarding newcomer satisfaction levels, results from the Pan-Canadian Settlement Outcomes Survey point to a positive picture of newcomer settlement, whereby 79% of respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with their settlement experience in Canada. The Department will also be reviewing its program management framework to determine what, if any, adjustments may be appropriate to strengthen program accountabilities, including whether to collect client satisfaction data.

(6) Responding to Canadians’ ongoing interest in helping Syrian refugees

4

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada look at ways to match donors who are interested in helping government-assisted refugees once they arrive in Canada, as they may not have the same access to social and vocational networks as privately sponsored refugees.

13

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada maintain high levels for privately sponsored refugees in future Immigration Levels Plans tied to the ongoing level of interest.

14

That communication be facilitated between sponsorship groups in order to share information, success stories, and challenges.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Canadians have shown their commitment to supporting the resettlement and integration of refugees through their interest in private sponsorship as well as individual and collective efforts within their communities. To facilitate interest in the private sponsorship of refugees, the Department made applications for a high number of blended visa office-referred refugees available for sponsorship in 2016. While the Department supports establishing higher admission levels of privately sponsored refugees, as per Recommendation 13 of the Committee’s report, it must also weigh several factors in determining immigration levels.

Providing an annual immigration levels plan allows the Government to project and plan for the number of privately sponsored refugees that will arrive the following year. Balancing demand in various categories, such as refugee sponsorship, with other Government priorities is important for managing immigration in a fiscally responsible way. As part of determining the annual immigration levels, the Department undertakes broad public and stakeholder engagement, which includes ongoing consultations with provinces and territories. In the 2017 Immigration Levels Plan the target of 25,000 for resettled refugees doubles the number of admissions prior to 2015. Further, the Government has placed priority on the privately sponsored refugee by establishing a target of admitting 16,000 privately sponsored refugees, more than tripling the average number of privately sponsored refugees admitted prior to 2015. These targets reflect the importance the Government affords to refugee resettlement and refugee protection.

The higher admissions targets for privately sponsored refugees will also help the Department reduce the backlog of applications for privately sponsored refugees. This backlog has developed over time and includes applications from Syrian refugees and refugees from other countries of origin. There are currently more than 45,000 applications for privately sponsored refugees waiting to be processed, some of whom have been waiting years. To further reduce backlogs and wait times, measures are being introduced to control the intake of new applications so that the Department will be able to offer more timely protection to refugees and be more responsive to new humanitarian crises as they emerge, and provide private sponsors and stakeholders that offer services to refugees with greater certainty on when to expect refugee arrivals. Addressing this backlog will require a sustained, multi-year effort in collaboration with partners, including provinces, territories, and the settlement sector.

The Department agrees with the Committee’s recommendation regarding facilitating communication between sponsorship groups in order to share information, success stories, and challenges, and is enhancing programming that supports this objective while continuing existing mechanisms for engagement with the sponsorship community. The Department also understands the importance of communicating directly with sponsors and recognizes the frustration many sponsors have felt following the resettlement of the first wave of Syrian refugees. The Department is actively exploring ways to provide more information about the status of applications.

For example, the Department introduced a pilot project for Syrian cases in Beirut in
August 2016 to provide arrival information much earlier. Instead of approximately 10 days before arrival, sponsorship agreement holders are now getting notification of the arrival date up to 8 weeks prior. This pilot project is intended to provide more advanced notice to sponsors and service providers so that they can ensure that they are adequately prepared to receive refugees when they arrive (e.g. provide housing, arrange for health and psycho-social supports). Early feedback of this pilot is positive.  Additionally, in December 2016, the Department started a new and timelier process to send confirmation to sponsors that their applications have been received.

The Department also remains committed to providing reliable information and advice to sponsors to ensure the strength and vibrancy of the refugee sponsorship program. Currently, this occurs primarily through the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, which provides resources and services to address the information and training needs of sponsors. Using existing resources, the Department is funding enhancements to the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, such as greater regional representation, to make more information accessible to sponsors and build stronger linkages at the local levels between private sponsors and organizations that provide settlement services. Further, the Department provides funding to the Sponsorship Agreement Holder Associations to facilitate communications among these sponsor groups on an ongoing basis. In addition, this funding supports an annual conference that allows for mutual exchanges of successes, challenges, and best practices among sponsors and the Department.  

Beyond private sponsorship, Canadians are contributing in other ways to welcome Syrian refugees and other newcomers within their communities. The Department’s continued work on settlement supports that facilitate connections between newcomers and their communities aligns with the Committee’s fourth recommendation regarding matching donors with government-assisted Refugees once they arrive in Canada. The Settlement Program’s Community Connections programming builds bridges between newcomers and host communities by helping newcomers make connections within their community while also engaging communities to welcome newcomers and support their full participation in Canadian society. In particular, the Department recognizes the positive impact that matching and mentoring activities have on newcomers and the integral role that volunteers play in the integration process. Many service providing organizations delivering Community Connections programming offer one-on-one, group and family matching, mentoring, hold community events and have volunteer coordination programs in place to facilitate matching those interested in helping newcomers, including government-assisted refugees.

Throughout the Syrian resettlement initiative there was an outpouring of support from generous Canadians wishing to donate their time and resources. This set a historic precedent highlighting the good will and interest in assisting Syrian refugees. The large volume of volunteers did present capacity pressures for many service providing organizations who did not have adequate resources to channel these efforts. In response, some additional service enhancements, resources, and innovative approaches to help manage volunteer flows were implemented to support service providers facilitate connections between volunteers and newcomers. For example, the Department funded Volunteer Canada to develop a volunteer management handbook with tools and resources to support organizations working with newcomers to Canada. Settlement organizations are receiving information on effective approaches to volunteer management and coordination through webinars and in-person training sessions. The Department is maintaining its engagement with key stakeholders and partners to find meaningful and effective ways to harness Canadians’ interest in supporting refugee integration.

The Department is enhancing matching activities and volunteer coordination programming to facilitate connections between newcomers, including refugees, and other members of the community. Future settlement programming for all eligible clients will be informed by the results of the most recent Call for Proposals process, where many of the community connection projects approved for funding will include resources focused on matching, mentoring and volunteer programming. As a result, more robust community-based programming for Syrian refugees will be implemented to support more systematic coordination between newcomers in need and volunteers wishing to offer their time and talents to support successful newcomer integration. This will be achieved using the Department’s existing resources.